Scientists warn of 'a slew of ethical concerns' with Elon Musk’s brain implant technology

Scientists warn of 'a slew of ethical concerns' with Elon Musk’s brain implant technology
Elon Musk in November 2008, Wikimedia Commons

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology, which sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, recently hired a director for clinical trials. The idea behind Neuralink is to implant coin-shaped devices that would allow people to operate computers and mobile devices with their brains. And in the scientific world, journalist Noah Kirsch reports in an article published by the Daily Beast on January 25, Neuralink is inspiring a lot of debate.

“In spite of the never-ending momentum for the world’s richest man,” Kirsch explains, “scientists are worried about the company’s oversight, the potential impact on trial participants, and whether society has meaningfully grappled with the stakes of fusing big tech with human brains.”

Neuralink has already been tested on animals, but testing it on people takes the technology to a whole new level. One of the scientists who has strong reservations about Neuralink is the University of Wisconsin’s Dr. Karola Kreitmair, an assistant professor of medical history and bioethics.

Kreitmair told the Beast, “I don’t think there is sufficient public discourse on what the big picture implications of this kind of technology becoming available are. I worry that there’s this uncomfortable marriage between a company that is for-profit.”

But Kreitmair also said that “this technology has the potential to be life-changing for people who are paralyzed” even though it “raises such a slew of ethical concerns.”

Another scientist who has strong reservations about Neuralink’s technology is Dr. Laura Cabrera, who specializes in neuroethics research at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.

Cabrera told the Beast, “With these companies and owners of companies, they’re kind of showmen. They’ll make these hyperbolic claims, and I think that’s dangerous, because I think people sometimes believe it blindly…. I’m always cautious about what (Musk) says.”

The 50-year-old Musk, a Gen-Xer and native of South Africa, is now, as Kirsch notes, the wealthiest man in the world — a position once held by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and later, investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. Musk, who founded Neuralink in 2016, is estimated to have a net worth of $243 billion, according to Forbes.

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